I have waited for this book for a long time.
Peter Enns has recently written a very controversial book entitled The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say About Human Origins. As one might already guess, for a Christian to put the term “evolution” and “Adam” together in an implied affirmative manner will, no doubt, churn heated discussion, especially for popular audiences. And it has. While Rachel Held Evans has given it a “heartfelt, enthusiastic recommendation“, Ken Ham has labeled Dr. Enns as “willfully ignorant“ and implied that he has sought the favor of academics over being true to God’s Word. A number of others have just threw out a number of Bible verses to Dr. Enns, perhaps thinking that if he would read the Bible (it would be a good idea for a Bible scholar to do so!) he would realize the error of his ways. So, with talk like this, why would I not want to read this book!
Now, onto Paul.
The section on Paul is, ironically, the least controversial and the more controversial of the two chapters. It isn’t that controversial because Dr. Enns fully admits that Paul believed in the historical Adam, a literal historical Fall, and that Adam was the beginning of the human race (119-20)…”Without question.” It will certainly be more controversial for the simple fact that Dr. Enns encourages his readers to separate from Paul on these beliefs. Evolution, in his mind, has provided the sufficient blow to taking Adam historically, and Paul’s words must be viewed in light this. He sets Paul’s use of Adam as a cultural idiom in the same light that many Pauline scholars place his use of “works vs. grace.” Paul was attempting to emphasize a point, not describe the Jewish religion as entirely works driven! In the same way, we must allow Paul to use the OT in the way which he needed to make a theological point: “Paul’s Adam as first human, who introduced universal sin and death, supports his contention that Jew and gentile are on the same footing and in need of the same Savior” (134). This is the main reason Paul saw Adam as historical and why so many Christians find it troubling to dispense with Adam. To be blunt, I agree with Dr. Enns on this point as well.
But I don’t think he has succeeded to remove Adam from the story completely. Indeed, even in the ancient flood story we have a probable historical kernel which arose out of a cataclysmic eastern flood event. Was there a character which built a boat? Maybe, maybe not. I personally find it hard to believe that all flood epics have a Noah-like character without there actually having been one who, perhaps, was a well-known survivor of the local flood. The specifics, the names, the pairs of animals, etc. These are points which surely come later in the story’s development, but many of these ancient myths, it seems, come from historical kernels Gilgamesh was a historical king, though certainly the story builds off of him in drastic ways to a point of redefinition. But I find it interesting in the latter case and–perhaps the former–we don’t see creatures created out of whole cloth. We see individuals that are significant for one reason or another; they are built off in later narrative constructions, to be sure, but their name obviously continued to be significant to the point of being included in later literature.
It’s possible, as Dr. Enns admits, that we have two creatures which arise in the evolutionary process, endowed with the soul and the Imago Dei. I agree with him, this is not the view of Paul. But I also disagree that such a speculation is merely “speculation.” We cannot read the evolutionary story into Genesis 1-3 but it is possible to envision the necessity for a historical Fall and to recognize that an Adam figure–in whatever way he looks–is our most likely candidate for such an event. If the Fall must be historical, and I think it does to make sense of redemption (how can you redeem something that was always broken), our Adam story may be much like the Noah epic. A historical kernel (and certainly the Fall would be an event which would carry on through generations), built upon by those seeking self-definition. Again, I stress that this is not a biblical perspective, but I think it is a theologically necessary perspective. Genre differences must be taken into account, but historical ambiguity does not trump the need for something to have occurred in history. Was there a snake? Probably not. Was it a fruit? Who knows?! But I think we have to admit, as Christians, that redemption means the correction of something gone wrong; I think free will entails that we have rejected God, both as individuals and as a corporate people; I think we cannot blame God for our evil and moral defects; and I don’t think Jesus, the second Adam, could not have come to fix something which the first Adam never made wrong in the first place. In other words, Genesis like or not, we have to conjecture that some figure–which we might as well label “Adam” for the sake of convenience–is our best place for pointing to a Fall.
Of course, Dr. Enns should be glad to know that this discussion is still something I am listening to. These are my thoughts, for now, and perhaps my view–like that of evolution–will eventually change. But for now, I simply cannot find a way to say the “why” of our human predicament may remain entirely open while dismissing all attempts to point to an Adam. And perhaps this is not that controversial of an idea. As noted, Dr. Enns freely admits that such a position is tenable. I think we disagree in that I think holding to some sort of “primitive Adam” is absolutely necessary for understanding our place in this world, our sin-natures from birth, and the mission of Christ to redeem the whole of Creation.
With all of that said, this is a book which I commend immensely. You may disagree with many aspects of it, but it cannot be accused of being mere fluff or theological liberalism. It is a serious attempt to reconcile the difficulties which we are now recognizing and I think, along with Dr. Enns, the identity of Adam and the literal interpretations we give Genesis, must be part of the discussion. Pick it up! Read it!